Monterey, CA, March 17, 2020 — April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month in the U.S., a time to spread awareness and understanding of this chronic condition that affects more than one million people in the U.S, more than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined.
National Parkinson’s Awareness Month helps people to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of this disease. Knowing more about Parkinson’s disease (PD) can help to work towards more research discoveries and treatments.
The one million people living with Parkinson’s in the U.S. doesn’t include the cases that go undiagnosed, and every year, 60,000 more people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Every 9 minutes, a life changing diagnosis is received.
But what is Parkinson's disease? PD is a neurodegenerative, progressive disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.
PD is most often diagnosed in people in their 60s. Young-onset PD (YOPD) is the term used for anyone diagnosed under the age of 50, which occurs in 10-15% of PD cases. Men are 1.5 times more likely to have PD than women.
The causes of Parkinson’s disease are still unknown, but researchers believe it is a combination of genetics and environmental factors. About 10 to 15 percent of all cases of PD are thought to be genetic forms of the disease.
There is no diagnostic test for PD. Physicians rely on a combination of clinical exams and tests evaluating symptoms. Often, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is first made by a primary care physician. Many people seek an additional opinion from a neurologist with experience and specific training in the assessment and treatment of the disease.
Some of the symptoms of PD include:
Tremors or tics in the hands, arms, legs or face
Rigidity of the limbs and trunk (stiffness in the body or limbs)
Freezing (hesitation when stepping forward)
Micrographia (writing that gets smaller in size)
Mask-like expression (due to a reduction in involuntary facial movement)
Problems with motor control including gradual loss of spontaneous movement and loss of coordination
A diagnosis of PD is life changing but there is much that can be done in terms of incorporating daily exercise and disease-specific programs that improve symptoms, restore function, slow disease progression and increase quality of life. Exercise benefits a Parkinson’s patient with symptom management. Research has proven that specific programs can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.
In Monterey County it’s estimated that there are more than 1,500 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. While studies have shown that exercise benefits patients with PD, Monterey County was lacking in programs and facilities that allowed PD patients to access and take advantage of Parkinson’s-specific exercise and movement programs.
In 2017, Power Over Parkinson’s (POP) was formed to raise funds to enhance the lives of those affected by the disease and support the availability, frequency and access to Parkinson’s-specific exercise through a local exercise program in an environment that embraces empowerment, motivation and social enrichment.
POP devoted a year to understanding wellness strategies, studying successful exercise programs, researching which programs were scientifically most beneficial and finding an accessible and convenient location to hold classes.
In 2019, POP launched its first class in the POP Fit program: High Intensity Interval Training incorporating the Rock Steady Boxing method. A Rock Steady Boxing affiliate, this non-contact program focuses on footwork, balance, coordination, stretching and strength building which are designed to improve balance, strength, endurance and flexibility.
POP fundraising efforts are to directly support patient services and expansion of existing Parkinson’s-specific exercises classes designed to slow symptom deterioration, disease progression and assist families coping with Parkinson’s rebuild and redefine their lives.
Currently, POP is operating under the fiscal sponsorship umbrella of the Action Council for Monterey County’s 501(c)3 and is also supported by a community grant from the Parkinson's Foundation.
There is no quick and easy answer to treating PD, but one thing is true: The more people understand the disease and the ravages it can cause, the more they will want to get involved. You can participate in National Parkinson’s Awareness Month in a number of different ways.
The Parkinson’s Foundation has an annual fundraising event called Moving Day. Form or sponsor a team and participate in the walk.
Marci Bracco Cain
Salinas, CA 93901